Aria Animation is a 13-episode animated series from 2005 based on the manga series of the same name by manga artist Kozue Amano. It tells the story of Akari Mizunashi, a young woman who is training as an apprentice gondolier (called Ondines) in the city of Neo-Venezia, which is covered with vast oceans.
The narrative itself takes place in the 24th century, with Neo-Venezia being a city on the planet Aqua, formerly known as Mars. Neo-Venezia is also based on Venice, as seen through the architectural style, being a port city with many narrow canals and a dependency on gondolas for travel.
Something that becomes noticeable very quickly with the series is its atmosphere and visuals – Aria is a visually pleasing anime and each episode offers a new glimpse into the world and its characters, as main protagonist Akari starts off as a pair (an apprentice gondolier) and works his way through to become a full-fledged gondolier (known as name of Prima).
The story of Aria is very character driven, as each episode focuses on introducing or involving the actors in their goals and the world of Neo-Venezia.
In the first episode we meet Alicia Florence, the only other Undine currently works for the company Aria, an Undine protege who takes Akari under her wing and is fairly easygoing and supportive.
We also meet several characters working for the Himeya company (which is the oldest company of aquatic guides in Neo-Veneto) including Aika S. Granzchesta, a frank and sometimes impetuous personality who, despite their different attitudes, forms a close friendship with Akari.
At the start of the series, she is shown having a hard time with her mentor Akira E. Ferrari, a Prima Undine (senior gondolier), and one of the members of Neo-Venezia. Three water fairies (title given to the most accomplished undines). While their relationship can be strained, there is also a feeling that Alisa has a lot of faith in Aika to be successful.
Another episode features the introduction of the tongue-in-cheek, anti-social couple who work for the world’s largest water guide company Orange planet, and whose rowing skills and hard work despite his young age led to his employment. His difficulties in socializing and detaching from others contrast with the other characters, although we are shown how his newfound friendship with Akari and Aika helps him open up more. His roommate is the awkward but sympathetic Athena, another of the three water fairies with a beautiful singing voice and a caring nature.
Elsewhere, we also meet other characters including Akatsuki Izumo, an impatient apprentice salamander (those who help maintain Aqua’s climate via floating buildings attached above Neo-Venezia) who is Akari’s first passenger in as a pair and occasionally teases her with the nickname “Sideburns”.
As the series progressed, I felt more comfortable with these characters and the world they inhabit, and felt sufficiently engaged with the overall concepts and ideas explored in Aria, which made me want to know more about the history and its developments.
Another notable cast member is the chairman of Aria Company and mascot Aria Pokoteng, a round cat who is a close companion to Akari throughout the series and often acts as a comedic relief in their interactions with d. other cat mascots. His presence could easily have been a little irritating, but instead the character works and fits into the narrative as well (all Undine companies have a blue-eyed cat as a mascot).
Watching the voice cast for Aria I think they fit their roles well, Erino Hazuki bringing a lovely charm and sympathy to Akari. Other highlights for me include Chiwa Saito’s performance for Aika, which responds well to the character’s whims, and Hirofumi Nojima as the stubborn Akatsuki, one of the series’ few supporting male characters.
In terms of animation, the series has many aesthetic backgrounds; there is also a nice attention to detail with the uniforms and designs. The cast features an array of expressions and Aria the Cat’s distinctive design works great here as well.
The series was directed by Junichi Satō, who I think conveyed the atmosphere of the series well – some “behind the scenes” anecdotes that I found were that the production team had traveled to Venice for research and that there was a commitment to provide a faithful adaptation of the manga – this effort is reflected well in the quality of a series Aria is. It is also fitting that Satō also conducts another work by Kozue Amano in Amanchu! several years later.
Aria offers a varied score composed by the acoustic group Choro Club and Takeshi Senoo that adapts effectively to the anime, depending on the scenarios at hand. For this season, the OP “Undine” was provided by Yui Makino while the ED “Rainbow” is a collaboration between ROUND TABLE and Nino. Both songs offer something different and match the vibe of the series.
Aria Animation is featured in its original 4: 3 layout and includes both the original Japanese language and English dubbing as options, with versions 5.1 and 2.0 available for English. I stuck with the original Japanese audio as my preferred listening choice and the disc has optional yellow and white subtitles.
An assortment of extras are also included here, including interviews and a six-part documentary series that follows director Junichi Satō and the production team visiting Venice for research, which was nice to see included.
Looking at the picture quality, much of the series takes place amid visually pleasing backgrounds with a soft and almost hazy, dreamlike quality that is well received. A technical note for the release is that the episodes are split across three discs.
MVM Entertainment also recently revealed that the cover will be reversible, allowing you to display the artwork without any BBFC logos or certificates.
To conclude: Aria Animation offers a relaxing experience and a sympathetic cast of characters with a progressive construction of the world that I would happily see in the following seasons. The music and direction is also a highlight and it certainly helped me pick out the manga volumes that recently received a limited reprint slated for 2022.